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How to Build Your Ideal Client

If someone asked you right now who your ideal client was, would you be able to tell them? Having a clear picture of your ideal client is a critical part of growing your business. It’s nice to want to do business with everybody, but realistically, there are going to be some who are a better fit for your business than others.

When you get really clear about who you work best with, you can begin to seek out prospects who fit that perfect mold. And when you’re targeting the right prospects, you’re spending less time on folks who will never convert. Instead, you’re building up a base of clients who will be thrilled with your work and enthusiastic about referring you to others.

So how do you build your ideal client? These five steps will help you develop a crystal-clear, refined vision of just who they are.

Before We Dive In…

There are a lot of small business experts out there who are pushing the idea of zeroing in on your niche from day one. While we are firm believers in serving your ideal clients, we’d also caution strongly against settling into a niche too quickly.

When you start a business, you think you know who you want to serve. But sometimes, through the course of running your business, you discover that your ideal client is actually someone very different from the person you envisioned.

When you niche too early in the process, you cut yourself off from the possibility of discovering your ideal client organically. No, you can’t leave things open-ended forever, but it doesn’t serve you to come in with a rigid and narrow set of expectations from the start.

1. Begin With Profitability

Once you’ve been in business for a while, it’s time to develop a sketch of your ideal client. The first step is to consider profitability. No matter how awesome a client is personally if they’re not paying your bills, they should not be your main focus.

Take your full list of clients and rank them from most to least profitable. Are there any commonalities among those at the top?

These similarities might be demographic, behavioral, psychographic, or geographic. Perhaps clients in a certain age bracket are the most profitable. If yours is a B2B, there might be one industry that stands out.

When it comes to behavioral traits, are there certain purchasing habits or ways of interacting with your brand that these profitable clients have in common? Maybe you find that your best clients are very active on social media.

Psychographics are about people’s values, attitudes, interests, and motivations. Do your clients have similar beliefs or lifestyles?

Lastly, consider geography. Is there a certain geographic area where your best clients reside or work?

2. Who’s Referring You?

Your best customers aren’t just those who are giving you a lot of business themselves. Your top-tier clients are also referring you to others. Up next, take a look at which of your clients are referring you, how often they’re doing it, and how frequently those referrals result in new business. As with the profitability ranking, it’s helpful to chart this all out so that you can fully visualize where each client stands.

Paying attention to referrals isn’t just about making yourself feel good. Sure, it’s flattering to know that someone liked your product or service so much that they told their friends about it, but it’s bigger than that.

People who refer you to others are having a best-in-class experience with your business. And they’re having that experience not just because you strive to give everyone great service, but because what you offer aligns perfectly with their needs.

When you see them referring you to others—and those referrals also signing on as clients—you know you’ve honed in on a very narrow, specific segment who needs the solution you provide and loves the way you solve their problem. And that’s what an ideal client really is.



3. Go Straight to the Source

Analyzing profitability and referrals is a great place to start, but you can’t stop there. If you want to fully understand how your business’s solution relates to your ideal client’s needs, you’ve got to ask them. Now that you know who your top clients are, reach out and inquire if you might have a bit of their time.

Depending on your business, there are a number of ways to gather feedback. An email survey is often the quickest and easiest way to reach your ideal clients. But if possible, a call or in-person meeting can help you gain even more insight into their needs, wants, and behaviors.

These are the types of questions you should ask your customers:

  • What’s most important to you?
  • How do you define success?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What’s a typical day for you?
  • What holds you back from making a purchase?
  • How do you research prior to buying?
  • How do you come to a final purchase decision?
  • What influences you? (i.e. publications you read, social media personalities you follow, etc.)

These questions help you to reinforce or reevaluate your earlier assessment of common traits. Sometimes these interviews unearth another shared trait to consider. Other times they help you understand the connection between two seemingly unrelated traits that kept appearing in your clients’ profiles.

4. Get Clear on the Must-Haves versus the Nice-to-Haves

By this point, you’ve developed a clear picture of the type of client you’d like to attract and have clearly defined their problem and how you solve it. Now it’s time for you to get clear on your dealbreakers. When it comes to your clients, what are the must-haves, what’s nice to have, and what’s an ideal quality?

By grouping the traits you’re looking for into these three buckets, you can quickly and easily evaluate each prospect that comes your way. If they’re missing a must-have trait, you shouldn’t do business with them. Nice-to-haves, on the other hand, are negotiable.

It’s always a good idea to start with your must-haves. Be realistic—it doesn’t pay to have a mile-long list of must-haves—but on the flip side, don’t omit qualities that really are your must-haves for the sake of being nice or easy-going. You’re not sharing this list with clients, so it’s okay to be honest about the traits you need your clients to possess.

From there, move onto your nice-to-haves. These are the traits or characteristics you’d really like to see, but you can still work with a client even if they don’t tick all these boxes. For example, as a marketing consultant, we find it’s nice to work with clients who have an internal marketing person. It makes it easier to execute on the strategic vision we outline for their business. However, we can still do great work with a business that doesn’t yet have an in-house marketing team, so we’re happy to talk with businesses that don’t have that capability yet.

Finally, you move onto your ideal traits. This is more about those psychographic and behavioral traits we talked about earlier. Do they share your core beliefs? For example, if you run a B2B and want to work with businesses that give back to their community, that goes on your ideal traits list. Sure, you’ll consider clients who don’t incorporate giving into their business model, but the business who shares a percentage of their profits with local environmental groups and helps plant trees in your community every spring is a business you aggressively target and pursue.

5. Create Buyer Personas

The last step in all of this hard work is making sure that you stay true to your convictions. You’re armed with all of this information about your ideal clients and the type of people you’re most excited to work with. Now it’s time to spell that out so it always guides your sales and marketing strategies.

Most businesses won’t have just one ideal client, and that’s why it’s helpful to create personas to represent the handful of clients you’d like to target. Personas are essentially sketches of each of your ideal clients.

These personas should include answers to the following questions:

  • What does this persona look like (demographics, psychographics)?
  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What behaviors help you identify them?
  • What objections must you overcome?
  • Where do they get their information—books, websites, social platforms, magazines, etc.?

Some businesses go so far as to create actual profiles for these personas, complete with a name, picture, and bio for each. Whether you take this more creative route or prefer to keep this information in a word document or spreadsheet, what matters is that you make it easily accessible for your reference.

Each new prospect that you encounter should be evaluated against your personas. Do they fit one of your profiles? If not, they’re likely not worth pursuing.

Business owners are sometimes afraid to get this specific in building their ideal client. They fear they’ll shut out prospects and miss a great opportunity. But the reality is, the more specific you can be in defining your ideal customer, the more likely you are to attract the right type of prospect. And in the end, it’s about quality, not quantity.

5 The Secret to Finding Highly Profitable Clients

Most people view marketing and selling like this.

ideal client sketch

photo credit: tiffany yelitza

You target a market segment, tell them what you have to offer, maybe work in a little solution selling and hope they choose you.


You target a market segment, respond to RFPs and hope they choose your price.

Either way, what you’re building is a recipe for low prices and even lower profits.

See, the secret to high profits is to take price out of the equation to a large extent by offering some unique and desirable element that can’t be compared.

The problem with solution selling and responding to RFPs is that both of these approaches basically make every business look the same so price is the primary issue.

The secret to creating consistently high profits is to understand how to choose your clients and not the other way around.

Yes, you need to select exactly whom you intend to work with and let your unique way of doing business illustrate your premium pricing value proposition.

Now, when I say choose your clients I’m don’t mean making a list of clients you want to work with or that you think would be nice names in your portfolio.

What I’m referring to is the intentional act of identifying the characteristics of an ideal client and going after only prospects that fit that profile. Taking this approach allows you to significantly increase the likelihood that you will only work with clients that appreciate your unique approach and expect paying you what that’s worth.

I have developed a three-step approach for helping you get clearer on this idea. You may want to download our free ideal client template here.

1) The #1 Unmet Need

The first step is to figure out who has a problem you can solve and what their goals are for solving this problem. I know we all think everyone needs what we do, but the key to finding ideal clients is to also find prospects that are in flux, have the desire to make a change and are open to a disruptive approach.

You must find that demographic, help them define their goals and speak to their greatest unmet need.

2) The Crucial Behavior

Once you identify the larger pool of prospects that have the need, it’s time to turn your attention to a narrower subset that has demonstrated a behavior that can give real clues to their willingness to respond to your unique approach.

This element is harder to define because you won’t discover it on a direct mail list of selected fields. But, when you understand it, you’ll have the tool to unlocking this approach in ways that will make you incredibly smart and confident about zeroing in on ideal clients.

Let me give you an example that might apply to any service type business.

I found long ago that there are three behaviors that stand out as crucial markers for an ideal client. It almost doesn’t matter what industry, if one of these three characteristics is apparent I can charge ahead with confidence that I want that client.

We’ve identified these behaviors with names to give us common language to refer to.

Movers – Movers are people who care about their industry almost as much as they do about their business. They have a need to serve and realize that by improving the overall health or impression of their industry, they win as well.

These people serve on industry and association trade group boards and committees and always look for ways to improve their business.

Educators – Educators teach as an approach to selling and business development. They hold classes, create content that educates and are often found leading discussions and presentations both related and unrelated to their core business.

No surprise, this behavior responds very well to an inbound, content based, educational approach in kind.

Skeptics – This last group might seem odd, but the one thing I’ve discovered about skeptics is that sometimes they are as open to anyone for a truly new approach. What they’ve grown skeptical of is that everyone is saying the same thing and no one is delivering results.

Sometimes the only way to uncover skeptics is through networking, but this group may indeed to very open to a disruptive approach.

3) The Ideal Client Sketch

The last piece of the puzzle is to write out a thorough sketch of this ideal client that includes the demographics, the #1 unmet need, goals and central behavior that allows you to pinpoint your hottest prospect.

From this three-step approach you should be able to create a hot list of real prospects that your marketing and selling efforts can take specific aim on knowing that your efforts, when successful, will lead to a profitable client.

If you liked this post, check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy.